By Yuliya Raskevich
It took director Mikhail Illyenko five years to produce the film, and finally it's about to hit the big screen on Jan. 19 in Kyiv's Kinopalats, on 1 Instytutska Street.
A young Ukrainian pilot during World War II called Ivan Dodoka ends up in Stalin's GULAG in Siberia for being captured by the Nazis. His close friend, also an army man, pronounces him dead to pursue his wife.
Although Dodoka escapes from the camp, his former friend turned enemy starts to hunt his as a dangerous criminal all over the USSR. Ivan disappears off his radar, and years later his wife finds out that he lives in Canada as has become chief of a native tribe.
Syomin told that he had known about a strange Indian chief in 1972 when Makhmud Esambaev was on the road in their place. Alexander used to be a deputy director of the local philharmonic at that time so he could spend much time talking to Esambaev. Makhmud told a lot of interesting stories but one of them seemed especially incredible…
In 1967 Makhmud was travelling in Canada and the cultural program included a visit to a North Indians reservation. By the moment they came all the tribe, about 200 Indians, had already gathered and were only waiting for a chief to appear. And finally he did--a high, slender and strong in a bright Indian garment. He was accompanied by a little fragile Indian woman, his spouse. Makhmud said “hello” in Russian and was pretty much surprised to hear the melodious “Zdoroven’ki buly” in Ukranian.
From here on the story forks into two major versions.
In one variant of it, Datsenko did die when his plane exploded; in another—he survived, parachuted to safety, was captured by the Germans, escaped, returned to his unit, but was arrested by SMERSH (the soviet counterespionage agency Smert Shpionam—Death to Spies), was put into a concentration camp, escaped and made his way to Canada where he married a Native American woman, was given the Indian name of The One Who Has Passed Through Fire (also known as Chief Poking Fire), had some children by her, rose to the status of chief in the tribe he had joined, changed his name and died as John MacComber.
On the other, photos apparently exist of John MacComber, a "chief" who doesn't look much like an Indian. If he wasn't a Ukrainian pilot, who was he?
It's possible that a non-Indian could've married into a tribe and become its chief. It's also possible that a Ukrainian could've married an Indian and produced a Native child named John MacComber.
This child wouldn't have needed a fanciful origin. Perhaps his Ukrainian father simply moved to Canada for some reason. If the father was a criminal, for instance, the son might've invented the pilot story because he was ashamed.
Usually the simplest story is the right one. A part-Ukrainian chief who invented a background seems simpler than a Ukrainian pilot who escaped a Siberian gulag, crossed the Pacific, joined a tribe, and became its chief. But you never know.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.
Since his "claims" are not proven or even factual for that matter. I'm going to say that this is nothing more than one man's fantasy. We all know how much white Europeans love the Native Americans and it's culture. They vie for it and pretend to live it.
And btw, the stereotypical plains tee-pee in the photo, supposedly made by some Eastern coast "Indian Tribe" of Canada looks bogus to me.
This is a bit bizarre, but yeah, claims are claims. I can claim to speak to the dead, and it's ridiculously easy to fool approximately 99% of the public into thinking I do. (John Edward's Crossing Over is a perfect demonstration of cold reading.)
On this topic of indigenous people and the Cold War, fiction also fails to grasp indigenous identity. I mean, look at Last of the Breed. Is there a single Sioux, or Yakut, who doesn't see the US and USSR as pretty much identical? For indigenous peoples, the economy's all basically Josef Stalin and Ayn Rand's demon lovechild, no matter who rules the world.
"I mean, look at Last of the Breed. Is there a single Sioux, or Yakut, who doesn't see the US and USSR as pretty much identical?"
You must be playing off of some stereotype of Sioux being so insular that they are entirely ignorant of the outside world. I don't buy it.
There are several photographs of someone who looks more Ukrainian than Indian and who allegedly spoke Ukrainian. I'd say these indicators are semi-factual, at least.
Doing a "cold read" of a visiting artist and coming up with the historical pilot story, complete with foreign-language touches, seems more farfetched than the pilot story itself. But I suppose it's possible.
Where did you get the "Eastern coast" bit from? The only geographical reference I saw was to a "North Indians reservation." The Northern Plains tribes in Canada used tipis, I believe.
Well watched the film, thats why got interested in the story behind it.
First it`s art film. It is not really about Indians. And directors stile was never realistic. Film is rather symbolic. So it is not to be taken more then that.
About story itself. It is somewhat obscure. There are number of things that support it. Accounts from soviet visitors that met him. At the time it was rather dangerous to make up stories like that. Second, there was an official comparison of photographs done by Institute of Forensic Pathology in Moscow which concluded that it is the same person indeed. Of course that is not conclusive. The only way to prove or disprove that story would be DNA tasting of his living relatives in Ukraine and Canada. Thats if anyone would bother to take up such investigation.
"And btw, the stereotypical plains tee-pee in the photo, supposedly made by some Eastern coast "Indian Tribe" of Canada looks bogus to me."
It was mainly made for tourists according to Indians that new him. While origin of the "Poking Fire" is obscure he definitely existed.
I completely agree with Lvivska Citadel reasoning that there is much evidence to support the story while the complete truth cannot be known without the DNA testing.
What outrages me the most is the article author's completely made-up story to explain how the Ukrainian could have become an Indian chief - by which she ended her writing. Those who lived under the USSR system, will recognize a pure KGB tactics to imply something dirty and shady to appeal to darker side of human nature in attempt to discredit the story.
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